Online versions of some components of Microsoft’s Office desktop productivity suite are now available for testing, by invitation only.
Due for release next year alongside Office 2010, the company’s next iteration of the suite, early next year, Office Web Apps consists of browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and note-taking applications OneNote.
The tools will allow workers to use their applications while travelling, and to collaborate on documents. They also allow Office documents to be embedded into web page.
Remarkably, the Web Apps will be available free to consumers via Microsoft’s Windows Live online services offerings. Businesses will be given the option of whether to deploy the web apps on their own infrastructure or on Microsoft’s own.
“We give customers the option to select the solution they need to meet specific business needs — whether in the cloud, on-premises or a combination of the two,” said Michael Schultz, director of marketing for Microsoft Office Services in a company statement.
Ever since web-based desktop tools such as search giant Google’s Apps suite emerged, the industry has expected Microsoft to follow suit. That it has taken this long for online Office to emerge is testament to both the technical difficulty of building fully functional web-based applications, and the challenge that Microsoft faces in shifting its operating model from a license business to a subscriptions business.